You would think that, by now, people would be past arguing about whether nature or nurture is the determining factor in human nature. It's like asking whether the ingredients or the baking make a cake. But no. According to John Horgan, there are prominent scientists ready to pull strings and intimidate anyone who gives support to the "enemy" in this conflict.
John Horgan is a columnist for Scientific American. His current column was inspired by a recent memoir published by anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon, Noble Savages. Back in 2000, Chagnon wrote another book, Yanomamo, that was quite a favorite with the sociobiology crowd.
Sociobiology is a school of thought that likes to explain features of human culture in terms of genetics and evolutionary theory. It favors nature over nuture, in other words.
Chagnon's book, about warlike tribes in South America, provoked a rebuttal from Patrick Tierney, in the form of a book entitled Darkness in El Dorado. So Tierney was "against" the sociobiology crowd, more or less.
John Horgan (whose column I'm summarizing here, in case you lost track) was going to write a review of Tierney's book. And then he got emails from several major scientists and philosophers -- Richard Dawkins, Edward Wilson, Steven Pinker, Daniel Dennett, and Marc Hauser -- who all told him that writing in favor of Tierney (and therefore against Chagnon and, by extension, sociobiology) would be harmful to his career.
This is the unbiased inquiry into the truth about nature?
Horgan deliberately made his review of Tierney positive, he says, to provoke discussion of the whole topic, and I suppose to show everyone and himself that he was not to be intimidated. Good for him. (Or so we might suppose; after all, we only have Horgan's word for all this.)
It is only fair to note, though, that the allegations against Chagnon in Tierney's book were investigated and found to be untrue. So it may be that Tierney's is not a very good book, but it was not for others to dictate that Horgan should say so.
Chagnon, by the way, is not a sociobiologist himself.
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